Now that spring football is over, it’s time to look back at exactly what we just saw. We’ll go over each position group over the next two weeks with what was learned and what still needs to happen. Up next will be the Ohio State cornerbacks.
Quick Position Overview
The Buckeyes have two veteran cornerbacks with not as much experience as they’d like in Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown. Banks had a solid season starting alongside Shaun Wade last year. Brown wasn’t available due to an injury last year. Fourth-year junior Tyreke Johnson continues to work to get into a rotation. Redshirt freshmen Lejond Cavazos and Ryan Watts were robbed of spring ball last year and lost a ton of learning throughout the season. Ohio State signed three cornerbacks in the 2021 class but only Denzel Burke enrolled early to participate in spring ball. Sixth-year senior Demario McCall moved from running back to cornerback about midway through spring. There are significant questions here, but there are also some possible answers.
Expectations Going In
Cameron Brown was never going to be ready to participate fully, so the expectation going in was that young guys Ryan Watts, Lejond Cavazos, and Denzel Burke would be the beneficiary of his absence. It was also expected that Sevyn Banks would continue to hone his craft under new defensive backs coach Matt Barnes. This was going to be a teaching spring that would hopefully go a long way in catching everybody up on the techniques they missed out on last year. As defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs said several times over the course of the spring, it’s hard to teach press man coverage over Zoom.
Reality Coming Out
Sevyn Banks went down with an injury a couple of weeks into spring camp, which was unfortunate but he’ll be fine for preseason camp in August. With both Banks and Cameron Brown out, that allowed a ton of reps for Ryan Watts, Lejond Cavazos, and Denzel Burke. Those reps helped but there is still more work to do. It was still great for Burke to get on the field and work against the likes of Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. It’s kind of like learning a foreign language by visiting that country and being immersed in it. Burke was immersed in what it takes to be a high-level cornerback this spring. And the same can be said for all of the cornerbacks, young and old.
Demario McCall showing up at cornerback certainly suffices as a surprise. McCall has spent his entire Ohio State career moving from position to position, but until this spring, those positions were just running back and slot receiver. So when he showed up at corner one day when the media was watching, it caught some folks a bit off guard. According to the defensive coaches, he picked up on it pretty quickly and he certainly didn’t look out of place in the spring game. What does that mean for this coming season? It’s way too early to say, but the fact this wasn’t something McCall fought against is promising. It may also not be nothing that he was playing in front of Tyreke Johnson in the spring game.
What exactly do the Buckeyes have in Cameron Brown? Ohio State is looking for a second outside corner to pair with Sevyn Banks, and while most expect that to be Brown, we haven’t really seen him there since 2019 as a backup. Is he truly good enough to be a starting cornerback for the Buckeyes? And that’s just the first question. The second is whether or not Brown’s recovery from his Achilles injury will have him fully back, or is this something that will take another year before he’s back where he was before the injury? Brown will certainly be ready for fall camp, but how close to his pre-injury self will he be?
So Now What?
The cornerbacks will simply bide their time until reinforcements arrive in the form of freshmen JK Johnson and Jordan Hancock. That’s actually not what is going to happen, but if anybody chooses to relax this summer, they could see their position swiped by either Johnson or Hancock. Johnson was the No. 3 cornerback in the 2021 class and Hancock was the No. 5 corner, so even though neither enrolled early, the expectations are that they will come in and immediately compete for playing time. Complacency would not be a good idea.
The lack of reps overall is a concern. Sevyn Banks had no spring last year and only eight games worth of starting experience. Then his spring gets cut short again. And yet that is still way more springs and games than Cameron Brown has gotten. Ryan Watts and Lejond Cavazos were busy this spring, but Cavazos has never played in an actual game and Watts only saw time on defense twice last season. There is absolutely some promise on this current roster and odds are there are at least two first-round corners in the corner room right now, but good luck knowing which two.
Are We Sure?
Are we sure Ryan Watts isn’t going to start in front of Cameron Brown?
“Yeah, we need to be able to play press man and we need to be able to do it over and over and over again and we need to be able to do it successfully. We went through and I watched every period of individual from the entire season last year, and we only got seven sessions of real one on ones in the course of a year, and that’s very challenging, right? In order to be able to do that job you’ve got to practice it over and over again, and so we got that in today. We had started with that and so that that was great. It was awesome. We’re gonna get so many more opportunities. And the kids that are here and the kids that are coming, that’s my expectation, we’ve gotta learn it, we’ve got to play it, and we’ve got to be really good at it.” — Defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs early on in spring on what he needed to see out of the cornerbacks.
|7 Sevyn Banks | Senior | 6-1 200
|Sevyn Banks is a returning starter at cornerback for the Buckeyes. Had a decent year last year and will use that experience moving forward. Unfortunately, he missed most of spring with an injury.
|4 Lejond Cavazos | Redshirt Freshman | 6-0 195 OR
|Lejond Cavazos redshirted last year while dealing with injuries. He had his moments this spring but was held out of the spring game presumably as an injury precaution.
|13 Tyreke Johnson | Redshirt Junior | 6-1 190
|Tyreke Johnson came to Ohio State as a 5-star safety but has been unable to find a role defensively for the Buckeyes. Reps were more plentiful this spring, so hopefully that will pay off.
|29 Denzel Burke | Freshman | 6-0 192
|Both Ryan Day and Matt Barnes were impressed by Denzel Burke this spring. He’s still learning the position but when your coaches start using words like “elite” and “natural,” you should take notice.
|26 Cameron Brown | Redshirt Junior | 6-0 190 OR
|Cameron Brown was back running and this spring but isn’t yet full go from an Achilles injury last year. Injuries have ended two of his seasons already, which is a concern in and of itself.
|16 Ryan Watts | Redshirt Freshman | 6-3 205
|If you see him on the field, Ryan Watts looks more like an outside linebacker than a cornerback but showed good feet and hips (and hands) this spring.
|3 Demario McCall | Graduate Senior | 5-9 195
|Demario McCall got a bunch of reps in the spring game as the coaches are trying to give him a crash course on cornerback play. He didn’t look out of place in the spring game.